The N.Y. State Central Register Reform Bill seeks to protect families by raising the state’s unusually low standard of evidence for listing parents on a state abuse and neglect registry, and reducing the economic impact of being listed. In 2018, more than 47,000 cases were added to the database, which is visible to potential employers. Parents are often listed even if no court action has been taken against them and remain on the registry—regardless of the severity of the accusation against them—until their child reaches age 28. The bill would require a “preponderance of evidence,” not “some credible evidence,” to list parents, a standard in line with most other states. It would seal parents’ records on the registry after eight years, in most cases, and make it easier for parents to challenge their records before that. The other bill, the Preserving Family Bonds Act, would allow children adopted from foster care to continue to have contact with their parents if a judge agrees that it’s in the child’s best interest. Termination of parental rights has been called a “civil death penalty,” but this bill would protect family bonds by ensuring open adoption, even when it’s not possible for a child to return home. Taken together, these bills represent an important effort to reduce the punitive effect of the child welfare system. Too often, the system punishes and permanently separates poor families—especially Black and Native families—as the U.S. has done through law and through economic inequity for its entire history. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed in 1997, remains especially damaging and reflects the time’s hysteria about Black families, when media images of “super-predators,” “welfare queens,” and “crack babies” demonized Black mothers and children. The law cut the length of time parents have to reunite with their children and provided financial incentives to states to prioritize adoption. The federal government also provides nearly unlimited funds for foster care but almost none for supports that enable families to keep children safe at home.

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